How Better Hospital Design Can Improve Patient Outcomes

How Better Hospital Design Can Improve Patient Outcomes

Design a better hospital. Have better patient outcomes.


Dhruv Khullar, M.D., a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, writes in a column for The New York Times that research shows even simple design changes can improve or shorten a patient’s stay.


“As a doctor, I’m struck daily by how much better hospitals could be designed. Hospitals are among the most expensive facilities to build, with complex infrastructures, technologies, regulations and safety codes,” Khullar writes. “But evidence suggests we’ve been building them all wrong — and that the deficiencies aren’t simply unaesthetic or inconvenient. All those design flaws may be killing us.”


Studies have shown that better design can reduce hospital-acquired infection rates and slash lengths of stay in the intensive care unit by 10%. Private rooms can reduce the risk of both airborne infections and those transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces. The increased cost of single-occupancy rooms is more than offset by the money saved because of fewer infections.


Patients often share a room which may contribute to patients withholding information from doctors for fear of the person on the other side of the curtain may overhear the conversation.

In addition to not revealing a full medical history, sharing a room may play a part in patients not getting the quality sleep necessary to recover. Khullar writes the average noise level in hospitals far exceeds guideline-based recommendations. Reducing exposure to noise through earplugs, sound-absorbing acoustic panels, quieter staff conversations, and fewer unnecessary alarms can improve the quality of patients’ sleep.


In addition a more thoughtful design that includes a view of nature could improve patient recovery time and significantly improve patient experience.


“Research supports an urgent need to change the way we build, maintain and work in hospitals, and many facilities could do more to promote rest and healing while preventing stress and infection.” Khullar argues, “It’s clear that evidence-based medical care will require evidence-based hospital design.”